Shelterbelts to protect wildlife

The establishment of shelterbelts is the most common form of revegetation on farms in Victoria. While the primary objective of shelterbelts is to protect farm enterprises from wind and improve productivity, they can also benefit wildlife by:

  • providing habitats (nesting sites, shelter and food)
  • acting as corridors for migration
  • offering shelter from predators.

Local wildlife can benefit your farm

Maximising the habitat value of a shelterbelt can provide a number of on-farm benefits, including pest control. Bats, ibis, parrots, robins, fairy wrens, magpies, lizards, bandicoots and sugar gliders are all known to consume a range of insect pests. While predatory birds, such as hawks, kookaburras and owls consume pests such as mice, rats and rabbits.

This reduces the landholder's pest control costs by saving time and reducing the need for chemicals.

Position your shelterbelt to benefit wildlife

The location of a shelterbelt requires careful consideration. The location of a belt to protect stock should be perpendicular to damaging winds. But shelterbelts for wildlife are best if they can link or incorporate existing native vegetation, or be placed along waterways or ridgelines.

The design and location of a shelterbelt depends on the purpose of the belt and your priorities. It is probably best determined through a whole farm planning (WFP) process.

When choosing a location, keep the following in mind:

  • Many timid species may be deterred from using a belt in a busy or noisy location.
  • Locating a belt away from disturbed sites can also reduce management issues such as weed invasion.
  • Connecting native vegetation with a belt allows species to move along and between patches of vegetation.
  • A shelterbelt located near a water body will attract more wildlife species.  Locating vegetation near a water body can offer additional benefits such as bank stabilisation and improved water quality.
  • Incorporating large old trees into shelterbelts can increase the habitat value of belts significantly. Old trees provide hollows for shelter and nesting, a greater range of food and produce larger quantities of nectar over longer periods of time and more reliably than younger trees.

Large, wide shelterbelts are better for wildlife

The wider a shelterbelt is, the higher the value it provides as habitat for wildlife. This is because a wider shelterbelt:

  • is less susceptible to detrimental 'edge effects'
  • supports a larger diversity of species and populations of wildlife
  • will provide a greater 'core' area (area away from the edge), which is used by some species so they will be less disturbed and are less susceptible to predation.

Other ways to enhance a shelterbelt for wildlife

To enhance the habitat value of shelterbelts without compromising their effectiveness, you can:

  • establish locally native species within the belt
  • create vegetative layers within the belt (by using a mix of species, age classes of plant and ground layer components).

Plant locally native species

Here are some advantages of planting locally native species:

  • It helps to maintain the genetics of plants in the area.
  • They're easier to establish and more likely to survive, having already adapted to the conditions of the area.
  • It helps to restore the processes of the natural ecosystem.
  • They're more likely to regenerate naturally or after a fire.
  • Natural regeneration enhances the habitat value and provides self-perpetuating shelter.

Pair species with the right landform

Another thing to consider when selecting plant species is the matching of species to landform. Different plant species and communities occur on different landforms such as drainage lines, hills and gullies.

You can identify the appropriate species and landform by noting remnant vegetation in the surrounding area. Remnant vegetation can usually be observed along roadsides and in reserves.

Call our Customer Service Centre on 136 186 for advice on species selection.

Create vegetative layers to imitate the natural ecosystem

Creating natural layers within a belt replicates a natural plant community and is more likely to attract a variety of species.

Many small birds use dense or prickly shrubs for nesting and feeding because they provide protection from predators. Small animals such as lizards, small mammals and frogs utilise ground components like logs, leaf litter, mosses, grasses and rocks.

You can create vegetative layers by:

  • establishing vegetation over a period of time or incorporating existing vegetation — Plants at different stages of development provide different resources and habitat for a greater variety of species.
  • randomly or irregularly planting species — This needs to be balanced with considerations of the density of a belt. Uniform density from the top of a belt to the ground level usually maximises the effectiveness of a break in sheltering a productive area.
  • planting a range of species — Different plant species provide different resources and at different times. This means a more reliable food supply.
  • placing nest boxes — Many birds such as parrots and owls as well as gliders, possums and bats have been known to use nest boxes. But it's important to monitor nest boxes to make sure they're not used by introduced species.

Management of shelterbelts

You must manage your shelterbelts so it stays an effective habitat to wildlife.

Management activities may include:

  • pest animal and weed control
  • fence maintenance
  • fuel reduction burning as part for fire prevention

See Shelterbelt management.

References

Burke, S. (1998) Windbreaks. Inkata Press, Sydney

Platt, S.J. (2002) How to Plan Wildlife Landscapes: a guide for community organisations. Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Melbourne.

Page last updated: 13 Jul 2020